Leading up to Saturday’s game against the Michigan Wolverines — who walked all over the Minnesota Golden Gophers at the Big House for a final score of 33-10, allowing them to retain a Little Brown Jug hasn’t spent more than a couple vacations in Minneapolis — I made the mistake of thinking the Gophers would play well and be competitive.
I was wrong.
The run defense was a disaster. It was a combination of poor gap control and even worse tackling. As a team, the Wolverines rushed for 394 yards when you don’t subtract the -23 yards that Michigan quarterback Brandon Peters contributed from a couple sacks. Junior running back Karan Higdon averaged 12.5 yards per carry (16 carries, 200 rushing yards, 2 touchdowns) and sophomore Chris Evans averaged 14.7 yards per carry (13 carries, 191 rushing yards, 2 touchdowns). It was an act of mercy that Michigan even attempted a pass.
Minnesota offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca must’ve been watching ESPN Classic last week and stumbled upon an Arkansas Razorbacks game from 2006, because I’m not sure how else to explain his sudden and inexplicable fixation with shifting Rodney Smith or Kobe McCrary behind the center to take the snap and — to the surprise of no one in the stadium or watching from home — running up the middle for no more than a few yards, if that.
Quarterback Demry Croft extended his ignominious streak of single-digit pass completions to three consecutive games. He also has completed less than 50 percent of his passes and turned the ball over four times during that same stretch. But his receivers also continued to do him no favors, struggling to create separation against man coverage.
And the Gophers are now 0-9 in trophy games since defeating Iowa on Nov. 8, 2014.
If haven’t picked up on it already, I’m a bit frustrated.
Listen, to those of you preaching patience, I get it, I really do. I applaud you, because if anything, this fan base needs optimists to keep banging that drum. P.J. Fleck needs more than a year to build his program. The Gophers have talent and depth issues up and down the roster. This is not the team that won nine games a season ago. I know all of this.
But that doesn’t make it any easier to stomach a season like this.
I hate losing. I probably hate losing more than I like winning. And I never want to get to a point where losing is acceptable to me. So when I hear things like, “Just wait until 2019,” I have trouble with that. You’re asking me to try and numb the very real misery of the painful present by fantasizing about a “bright future” that may never come. Because no matter how certain you are that Fleck will lead this program to Indianapolis, there is no guarantee. There never is.
And the product we’ve seen on the field this season up to this point isn’t exactly indicative of future success, at least in my opinion.
I want to believe that Fleck is capable of translating his success at Western Michigan to Minnesota. I want to believe Fleck is an outstanding recruiter who can bring Big Ten talent to the Twin Cities. But working against him is a program’s history of mediocrity that extends back 50 years, spanning the tenures of 11 different head coaches, and the natural apathy that develops within a fan base forced to endure that kind of history.
I’ll continue to watch and spend my Saturdays investing in a football program that has never really offered all that much in return, because I’m stubborn and refuse to admit defeat. I’m in too deep at this point to turn back or jump ship now. But I want the frustrated Gopher fans out there to know that they’re not alone in being skeptical of a future that some seem so certain about.
After 50 years of futility on the football field, you’d think that enduring a couple more, with the promise of better days to come, wouldn’t be asking all that much.
I want to trust P.J. Fleck, but if any fan base’s trust issues are warranted, it’s this one’s.